"I think that once people are nude they strip away their position in society and become real." Models reflect on nudes.
The raw sensuality of the human body has been explored in art for as long as we have been aware of erotica. Artists have fed from our desire to be voyeurs and the pleasure we gain from embracing primal hungers, and the guilt we feel afterward. Nudes in art are a telling legacy of the way we have evolved over the centuries. And those who dare to paint or sketch, and those who dare to reveal themselves to the artist, have always met with controversy and disapproval.
In the Middle Ages, nude modelling was not accepted. It was thought to be so immoral that any woman who posed for an artist was spoken of in the same inhibited breath as prostitutes were. Back then, nudes were symbolic of evil and death. The paintings were themed on sexual impurities the artists cunningly used to exploit the anxieties of the people of that time.
As a society we may think we have left our fears behind and have become more accepting, but we really haven't. Here in Alberta, artists paint landscapes for profit and nudes for artistic pleasure.
"I know I am supporting the arts and I think the arts are very important," admitted Snake, a woman with a heightened self-awareness who models for various artists in Edmonton. "Nudity is a tool for expression and it gives voice to ideas and thoughts and creativity."
By day, Snake works at the Alberta Status Of Women office and by night she is said to be one of the most in-demand models in the city. It's been said that when word gets out that Snake will be posing for a class artists flock to the venue. Her sense of self confidence is what makes artists to want to capture her. And the experience of being captured has given her a better understanding of herself.
"Doing the modelling improves my body image," she said. "It helps me to see my body as a work of art. I am very much in my body when I pose."
After the Middle Ages, Italian painter Botticelli changed the perception of nudes and art. His famous painting Birth Of Venus celebrates beauty with the same intensified sexual awareness Snake feels when she poses.
"When I feel good about my body I feel less inhibited sexually. Modelling contributes to that part of my life. But when i am posing I'm not trying to see myself as a sex object. I'm trying to see myself as an art object."
Snake claims her most endearing qualitiy as a model is the ability to mentally leave her body - allowing her to hold extended poses. She began modelling after she came back from a women's music festival with the realization that she was more beautiful than she had ever realized before.
Rubens brought relaxed poses and undistracted settings to nudes in art. He was followed by the color and sensuality of Renoir, the sensitivity of Gauguin, and the complexity of Picasso. Each artist bringing to life the elegance of the human body.
Local painter Garry Todd follows in the tradition.
"I can see something I like in every human body. Almost every body has a sense of grace. Once people take off their clothes they revert to being an animal. I think that once people are nude they strip away their position in society and become real," he said.
"The absolute essence of art is the human form," offered Daniel Rogers, a university graduate who also poses for several local artists.
Masculinity has been celebrated differently in art than that of femininity. The nude male was once representitive in Biblical themes and evolved to have strong homosexual overtones. But it would seem the difference ends there. For Daniel Rogers, to be a good nude model there is only one essential quality:
"You have to be comfortable with yourself. You have to act and react naturally. The best models are not performers. The more natural the better."
Rogers tells of how a modelling experience can vary from a series of one minutes poses to a three hour pose. He stresses how the experience is only "just a job" and how the social aspect of nude modelling is most appealing to him. Meeting artists and being part of the creative process drew him into modelling.
Neither Snake nor Daniel have received a negative reaction toward their modelling endeavors. Both admit they have never been sexually aroused while posing. And both aren't driven by the idea of their bodies being engraved in time. They seem to be motivated more by the moral complexities of art, and choose expression over ignorance as many models have done in the past.
Rogers capsules the mentality. "It's still very much a double standard. Everyone is naked underneath their clothes but nudes are still considered very offensive. There is a grudging titillation in seeing nudes and people react to that."
(originally published in VUE Weekly, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
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